I was not born there. I did not spend my childhood there either. I don’t know the city very well, I haven’t been around much. Just a specific part of the Cantonment area and a few other places in the city centre. Yet the word ‘Dehradun’ sends such a torrent of emotions and memories rushing through me, that it’s difficult to believe I would ever find another city this close to my heart. I spent the best five years of my life there, at a military boarding school.
I remember the day I first saw the city. It was a small, grim, sepia-toned urban landscape without any distinct personality. But if it’s not welcoming like Mumbai, it’s not hostile like Delhi either. It had that quiet, slightly aloof manner like that of those sagacious cows that would sometimes populate the roads. Except for the city centre, Dehradun was very green and very tranquil. The summers were scorching, but the lychees were delicious. The monsoons poured down as if to extract a revenge and the campus would turn sickeningly green. The winters were the worst. But then we never slept better than in winters. The Paltan Bazaar, the momos, the rasmalai from Kumar’s, the cheap (but now renovated) cinema halls, the bikram, the horrible road to Mussourie and above all every moment spent inside the boundaries of my school. It is all deeply etched inside. The memories might be mental, but the friends I found there are very much physical and fortunately, still with me through various mediums. There is something about the bond of friendship formed over years through sweating, bleeding, laughing, running, toiling, playing, (not) studying, sharing, caring, facing and learning life together. It promises to last till the very end. Just when you start thinking that the vagaries of life and the tides of time might wear it out after all, you feel its strong tug, as forceful as always. At our school, every junior dreamt of being a senior so that life would be easier with more power and lesser authority to obey. We did too. We grew in seniority, and the city grew in many different ways. Then one day, we had to ‘Pass Out’. With heavy hearts, we left Dehradun.
However, Dehradun never left us.
Pune. A city I loved….
Anyone who has experienced that city long enough to have an opinion about it will tell you about its distinct and very much alive sense of identity. Pune might adapt, that too in a slight degree, but it does not change. At least not the ‘proper Pune’. The fundamentals remain the same. I have and have always had an intermittent presence in the city. But my relationship with it is fondly deep and only grows fonder with the passing time. By its standards, I’m an outsider too. But I consider myself a ‘Punekar‘.
Why? That’s a slightly difficult question.
Pune is where I feel at home. Its obstinacy to change and the pride it takes in that obstinacy is somehow very just. Its old, wood-and-stone, big and small houses and waadas/mansions (albeit rapidly vanishing to give way to the high-rises) and its bent, white-and-greying but mentally sharp senior citizens keep Pune rooted in the culture, history and tradition of which it was once, and still is, a paragon. The people might come across as rude, curt, selfish, insensitive and arrogant, but believe me when I say it’s just their hard shell and not their core. They are, in fact, some of the best and the most interesting people one will ever come across. For me and presumably for most of its citizens, the city is more like an extended, big home. Many of the families have all of their relatives within a driving and often a walking distance. Not just this, but the ‘homely’ feel comes from the existence of many age-old establishments of different kinds that have become synonymous with Pune, like Chitale Sweet Shop. It’s a happy little life really, where you are always with your friends and family, frequenting places that were also frequented by your grandfather with equal ardour and generally brandishing around your burning pride in being a Punekar. That is, when you’re not participating in (pseudo)intellectual debates or being mean to the new-comers in the city.
Regardless of that, I still love the place. I might go away for a while, but I always want to return. To briefly drive my point home, I’d like to marry a ‘Puneri‘ girl. And Pune is where I’d like to grow old with her.
— Parth Indalkal